Tears of joy, disappointment, love, or loss–all add texture to man’s being.
Too many “men” aren’t whole.
It was the bottom of the final inning. I was 12. Playing for the Buchanan Little League “Cubs.” My dad was the coach (he was always the coach — thanks Dad). We were down a run with a man on first. I was up next with two outs.
In the moment, it felt like the thick July air of a Michigan night stilled. In my memory, the ballpark lights are illuminating a perfect summer night, with fireflies sparkling over the outfield fence. The infield dust, the chalk lines, the nachos and hot dog aroma, the opposing 11-year-old pitchers eyes, the hometown announcer calling me to the plate, the volunteer ump sweeping home plate. Classic little league moment.
The pitch whistled in. My bat connected. The ping of the metal brought the moms and dads in the crowd to their feet. My first career home run sailed over the left field fence. I had done it! I had made real the backyard baseball dream. I had won the game with one mighty blow.
For a skinny kid whose jersey was always a bit baggy and whose hat was always a bit too poofy on top, hitting a home run in my final year of little league was a life milestone. I lived for baseball (still kinda do). This was the greatest thing that could have happened to me.
As I rounded the bases in a not-so-casual and, in fact, crazily elated sprint, I remember rounding second. I remember that particular moment very clearly. Something inside me, something purely joyful and gleeful made me lift my arms, grab the batting helmet off of my head, and toss it into the air in victory. With my body now sans-helmet, and nearly floating around third and into home, I remember my teammates—my peers—cheering uncontrollably. Still smiling, I crossed the plate. My ticket to go eat some celebratory ice cream.
Then it happened. The home plate umpire pointed to me and matter-of-factly communicated his enforcement of what I believe to be a really bullshit rule, “The batter is out. Number twelve removed his helmet in the field of play. That’s an out. No runs score. Game over.”
I cried like a little boy. (For the record, I was a little boy, but I really cried).
I sat in the dugout, balling my eyes out, for an eternity.
I cried hard.
My dad gave me some space and then consoled me in a very loving way. When I exited the dugout, my mom, Grandma, and Grandpa all congratulated me. I wouldn’t have any of it. I just wanted to go home.
This story sticks with me. When I think about this moment in my young life, it isn’t painful. It’s wonderful. It’s full, rich, layered, and bursting with emotion. The tension of the at-bat, the eruption of happiness as the ball went over the left field fence, the explosion of excitement as I threw off my helmet, the actual “agony of defeat” at the umpire’s ruling, the rush of disappointment and despair as I realized I had let my team down, the drenched-in-tears cheeks.
God, that’s what it feels like to live. That’s the texture of being. That’s the beauty of humanity, all right there in my skinny 12-year-old frame.
That wasn’t the only time, though. I’ve cried since.
In college, my fraternity was the most important thing to me. I remember my last fraternity chapter meeting as president—I was letting it go. I felt so much pride. I felt so much connection and appreciation for the men around me. I felt such sadness for moving on. I felt anxious, happy, jealous, loving, and loved. I felt so much among those men that I wept. Bellowed, really. I let myself go.
When my first daughter was born, I got to “catch” her as she entered the world (with the able assistance of our midwife). I gushed with tears as I welcomed her to the world. I absolutely couldn’t control the release of what felt like pure emotions emanating from my soul.
A few hours after our second daughter was born, a pediatrician suggested she might have a serious heart defect. My eyes poured, and my heart wept. (Turns out she was fine, by the way).
When my grandfather, one my true heroes, died, my Grandma asked me to deliver his eulogy. I’m a professional speaker, but most of his life’s celebration was full of the heaving and sniffling of pure sadness from losing my Grandpa.
When I’m working with my colleagues, I’ll often say how important they are to me and how proud I am of them. When I do, my voice cracks and I don’t know if I’m going to break down and start wailing or if it will pass.
Here’s why I share this with you. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of being a crying dude. Why? For me, it’s proof that I’m not avoiding the deepness of living. It’s evidence that I’m not too chicken-shit to actually care. At those times I cry, I know I’m living. I’m not withholding joy and pain by settling for fun and disappointment. I’m living a whole life. Not a half-life that avoids emotion, connection, and the rush of being fully human.
Look back at my examples. They’re all about moments when I’ve been connected to others. My team, my dad, my fraternity chapter, my grandparents, my wife and daughters, my co-workers/best friends. Real, full, rich, powerful life moments don’t happen alone. They happen among people, and they happen when we exchange wild emotions in unbridled ways. Real living requires real human connection.
Being a man has nothing to do with NOT crying. In fact, if you don’t cry on a regular occasion, I’d worry about you being whole. If you don’t cry, or at least have moments of intense emotional expression (assuming you don’t have some associated medical challenge), there’s a chance you’re not wholly connected to the human experience.
Humans are social animals. We’re built to succeed only through our connections with others. We must live fully with the people around us. We must deeply, fully, and completely connect if we want to be the whole version of what we’re capable of becoming.
If you can’t, then try connecting with more people more deeply. Find ways to care more about the people in your life and the purpose of your life. The reason for my tears is my connection and love for and from other human beings.
It will make you a whole man.
Image credit: Anders Ljungberg/flickr